Why You Can't See the French Open Live

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Ok, I think I have the explanation as to why the French Open Men’s semifinals weren’t shown live on NBC or the Tennis Channel. It gets convoluted, and I’m not suggesting it makes a lot of sense, but here it is.

-NBC and the Tennis Channel shared the rights, and NBC had the right to pick which match they wanted. But they make the decision based on time, not opponents. So they selected the earlier of the two matches. French Open officials are the ones who select who plays first, so in this case NBC got the match between Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez.

-NBC can’t pre-empt the Today Show. So the match was shown on tape delay between the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. window.

-The Tennis Channel ended up with the rights to the Federer-Del Potro match, but could not show it live because NBC had the exclusive rights to tennis during that 10 a.m.-1 p.m. window. So in other words, NBC didn’t have the rights to the Federer match, but it managed to prevent anyone else from showing the match live because it had an exclusive window for tennis during that time, which it used to show the Soderling-Gonzo match.

-The Tennis Channel did offer to switch matches with NBC if the first match was over by 10 a.m. ET when NBC went on the air with its coverage. But that match went 5 sets.

- I am still a little vague on why, if NBC couldn’t get on the air before 10 a.m. because of the Today Show, it would have asked for the earlier of the two matches. But it’s worth pointing out that that 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. window probably would not have given the network enough time to show the Federer match to the end anyway. (Imagine the uproar if NBC cut away from Federer in the 5th set to show a soap opera.)

-The Tennis Channel WILL show the Federer match on tape delay at 4 p.m. today.

-NBC does not have rights to show the French Open on cable and it has no live digital rights. So it could not have shown any matches on any of its many cable networks or on its Web site like it did during the Beijing Olympics.

In my conversations with a very nice and patient NBC spokesman who walked me through of this, the network acknowledged that its not the most perfect situation.

Here are a handful of friendly suggestions on how to make it better:

-NBC should not even bother trying to televise the French Open except on Saturdays and Sundays. It is too hard for a network to show live sports on a weekday where there is other programming that conflicts with it. The best thing would be for NBC to continue with their weekend coverage and hand over the rest of the fortnight to the Tennis Channel or ESPN.

-If NBC wants to keep televising the tournament, it should negotiate for cable and digital rights. Perhaps the NBC broadcast network may have trouble showing live matches, but NBC Universal has other networks including USA, Bravo and its cable news networks that might be able to find the time. Meanwhile, the matches could also be made available live on NBCSports.com.

-Play hardball with the tournaments. In this instance, NBC was forced to pick which match it wanted based on time, not players. That’s silly. Clearly, NBC would have preferred to show the Federer match. In the future, NBC needs to negotiate the rights based on who’s playing.

-Tell fans of the Today Show and soap operas to chill out. They’ll get over it.

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